the case for kindness during hurricane season

Jun 23, 2008 by

(Originally posted someplace else on June 1, 2008)

I’m trying to keep things up-tempo here at Casa de Maistros, but this time of year, my God it is tough. I confess that summers in New Orleans are not my favorite thing.

Here’s the deal. Today is the first day of hurricane season and it’s like some invisible demon has shot a starter pistol off into dogbreath blue sky signaling the Olympic Games of Organized Neurosis to hereby officially begin. It’s a stressful time of year, for sure.

Back before the big storm, hurricane season could be nerve-racking at times – but there was a kind of camaraderie about it, an almost jovial good sportsmanship associated with that universal fear of the so-called big one, a certain comfort in the comfortable uncertainty of how it might play out. We were only guessing then, and the guessing felt like a game.

Now it’s different. We’ve all seen how this shit plays out for ourselves, up close and personal. Now we know how very fucked up things can get around here. There’s not a whole lot left to guess about.

I’ve noticed that the biggest difference between now and then is not the weather, but our collective state of mind. Remember back in the day, when Ivan or Georges or Isabelle or whatever one-eyed shitfuck had to crawl so far up the radar that it was breathing down our necks before we even got the tiniest bit antsy about it? That was really not a bad way to go. Nowadays, everyone shifts way down low into mental meltdown mode as soon as the tiniest swirling bit of goo forms off the coast of Africa. It’s really ridiculous, but we all watch this shit like hawks now, as if such obsession can possibly do anyone any good at all.

The truth is simple enough. All we really need to do is decide whether we’ll be staying or going if the unthinkable happens again, and how we’ll act out that decision if and when it’s go-time. I know it’s very difficult to be methodical and rational about these things considering all that’s happened. But if we’re going to keep living here, we’ve got to start integrating these possibilities into our psyche in smoother fashion and stop taking out our frustrations on each other. And we have to do this even when we’re feeling the heat and the fear and the anger of bad memories far too recent to dismiss gracefully or easily or, really, at all.

I’m not preaching here, I’m pleading. Try. Just try. Let’s reject the temptation of the group nervous breakdown. We can’t go on acting as if we’re all just back from Vietnam, expecting Charlie might jump out of the bushes at any point between June and November 1st. We New Orleanians are world renowned for our nutty behavior, and it’s an endearing quality on most days, but when the collective dementia translates into 7 parts crime wave and 3 parts general heartlessness towards one another, the nutty factor loses its classic charm.

And, I know; the mosquitoes, the termite swarms and this devilfucked black gnat epidemic are not helping morale much. I know. I’ve gotten to the point where the bugs have me so twisted that I’m collecting the little fuckers like trophies on tape strips and trap jars. It’s just how I deal. Makes me feel like I’m making a dent. A dent on what, I’m not exactly sure.

Let’s make a summertime resolution to get a grip. Really, we all have to learn to just kick it like we used to.

Do like this: Put together your little riding-it-out-like-a-crazed-motherfucker survival kit, or your getting-the-hell-out-of-dodge-like-a-sane-motherfucker escape kit, then tuck it away for that rainiest of days and forget about it till you need it. Fire up the barbecue or berl up the crawfish, reacquaint yourself with your fellow humans in a good way and try to remember that we’re all in the same leaky boat – and also remember that the day may come when that cranky-ass neighbor who’s name you can’t quite recall might turn out to be your best friend on this earth. Brush up on your hurricane humor. Remember how we used to crack each other up before a big storm, making light of a bad situation? That was healthy. As long as we’re prepared to deal with it realistically, it is very healthy to laugh. So yuck it up, bond with your fellow inmates, and strike up the motherfucking band. This is New Orleans, goddamnit, and we all have a lot to be proud of here. We’ve come a long way down this rough road of making things right again, and the government promise-breakers – be they city, state or federal – have had very little to do with that. This city has been regenerated one roof at a time. It’s you who have accomplished this. And your neighbor. So treat each other right. Every one of us who came back and swung a hammer in trembling fists is a fucking national hero. Know that. And don’t forget it. We might have been forgotten by most of America, but we absolutely embody the American can-do spirit. So be proud – because you’re a fool if you aren’t.

You know, if we’ve learned anything from the past it’s that, at the end of the day, we can only truly depend on each other. And that’s just fine because it’s enough, and it works. So let’s all take a deep breath of something good, wash it down with a stiff drink of something better, put on our goofy-ass devil-may-care Southern grins, and love thy neighbor like it’s an idea that really means something. Because goddamn if it doesn’t.

Experience is a tricky thing. I once knew a guy who had played guitar for twenty years but just never got any good at it. I asked a friend, “Has this guy really been playing twenty years?” And the answer was, “Well, it’s more like he’s been playing for one year, but twenty times.”

Let’s not let the benefit of our experience be erased every year, only to start from scratch with tempers flaring and guns blazing in a blind war against whoever or whatever is handy. Let’s build on what we’ve learned, every year and every day, let’s toughen our skins and sharpen our wits – but also let’s soften our hearts towards each other. Because if we don’t reach out to our neighbors, if we don’t prepare to help and be helped by each other, then we’ll just wind up in that damn Superdome again, waiting for another Godot who will not fucking come till it’s all too late, another demoralizing spectacle of pity and ridicule for the world to gawk at – and that, my friends, is not us. And it never has been.

So here we are again, about to run through one of those mind numbing psychological gauntlets, another Orleans Parish pressure cooker, and make no mistake; stand or fall, it’s all on us, baby. And just like always, we’ll either rise to the challenge or be diminished with the tide. We really can’t do both.

– Louis Maistros


Cross-posted from These Things May Not Be Right, But They Are True.

The Sound of Building Coffins by Louis Maistros is due for publication from The Toby Press in Spring 2009.

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